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At Zion National Park, the narrowest part of Zion Canyon on the Virgin River is commonly referred to as “The Narrows.” This slot canyon is one of the most popular hikes at Zion. The Narrows is an absolute MUST DO at Zion National Park. Lately, it seems like everybody has been hiking The Narrows. You have probably seen the pictures in your feed, hikers trekking through the water with narrowing rock walls encapsulating the trail. It looks like a difficult place to access, but to be honest, it can be accessed pretty easily. The bottom-up trail, which is the one we did, is probably one of the easier hikes to access and complete in Zion, pending how far you go on the trail.
There are two ways to navigate The Narrows. You can start from the bottom at the Temple of Sinawava and hike for as long as you can go. The endpoint for the bottom up would be Big Springs. At Big Springs, the hike requires permit access to go further. It’s about 10 miles roundtrip until the trail turns into permit access only. Or, you can start from the top, which is over a 16-mile trail and requires a wilderness permit. The top-down hike is recommended only for experienced hikers and something that I would recommend researching greatly before you complete it.
This post is going to discuss how to hike The Narrows from the bottom, starting at the Temple of Sinawava entrance point. This is by far the easiest and most casual way to see The Narrows. You do not need a ton of advanced preparation to do the trail. The trail is rated as “moderate-intensity” for a river hike.
How To Get To The Bottom-Up Trail Of The Narrows
To get to The Narrows, you need to first gain access to Zion National Park. The parking lots at the park fill up rather quickly. If you do not park inside the park, you can find paid parking outside of the park on the street and either walk in from your parking space or take the town shuttle to the park gate.
Once you are inside Zion, the trailhead of The Narrows is accessible by the Zion park shuttle. In fact, you cannot drive to the trailhead, you have to take the shuttle. It is the last stop, stop 9, on the shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava. From the first shuttle pick up point, it is about a 45-minute drive through the park to the Temple of Sinawava. Enjoy your time on the shuttle; it’s a beautiful drive through the park with stunning landscapes and mountain views.
The shuttle drops you off at a shuttle stop with a bathroom and direct access to the Riverside Walk trail. Once you enter, there are no other bathrooms along the trail. To access The Narrows, you have to walk down the Riverside Walk trail for about a mile until it opens into the access point for the Virgin River. The Riverside trail is very flat and easily accessible.
How Far To Go
Once you complete the Riverside Walk trail and get into the Virgin River, you can hike as much as you want to without a permit, up until Big Springs. Big Springs is about a 10-mile roundtrip hike from the shuttle stop. At Big Springs, you need permit access to go further.
My group hiked to Orderville Canyon, which is about 2.5 miles from the beginning of the Riverside Walk. We would have gone farther, except we got a late start and wanted to leave the park before it got dark. When you are in the water, it definitely feels easier to hike than if you are on a mountain trail. I felt like I could have hiked forever and ever. Be mindful of the time and remember that you need to return as far as you hike in.
What To Pack
As you pack and prepare for this hike, remember that you will be hiking through the water. While the water is mostly below your knees, there are portions of the river where the water is waist-deep (I’m 5’9”). Be prepared with appropriate clothes, shoes, and gear. If you need to rent any gear once you arrive, please check out this store: Zion Adventures. This is where I rented my pole and they had everything you need to rent to hike The Narrows.
Water shoes: First and foremost, I recommend having sturdy water-resistant shoes. If you don’t have appropriate footwear, you can rent water-friendly shoes. I would not recommend doing the trail barefoot or in sandals. The rocks on the bottom of the river are slippery and hard to grip.
Hiking Pole: You will want to maintain balance during the hike because if you don’t, it could mean falling into the water. If you have hiking poles, I definitely recommend bringing them for this hike. If you don’t have poles, you can rent a hiking stick at the store located outside of the walk-up entrance to the park, Zion Adventures. I rented a stick for $7 and found it to be extremely useful for walking through the river and keeping my balance.
Dry Bag: You are hiking through a river and anything can happen. You can fall in the water, get splashed, or end up in waist-high water. Bring a water bag for your valuables to keep them dry.
Quick Drying Clothes: You will surely get wet as you hike The Narrows. I recommend wearing clothes that dry quickly. Once you get out of the river, it will probably be at least 1-2 hours until you get to your car, so you don’t want to be in super damp clothes.
Food/Water: Make sure you pack adequate food and water. There are dry places to stop on the trail to take a break and eat food or have a drink of water.
Flash Flooding and Water Current
Given the nature of this hike, you want to be cautious about water levels and flash flooding. There are certain times during the year when the trail is completely closed. It is mostly recommended to hike The Narrows during the summer and autumn months. Flash floods can happen in an instant with rain and can cause injury and even death to hikers. Check the weather forecast before you go to the park and avoid hiking if rain is in the forecast. You can also check the flash flood potential here.
When you are hiking the bottom-up way through The Narrows, you will be walking upstream against the river current and returning downstream with the current. One of the mistakes I made at the beginning of the river was attempting to walk in a straight line through the river, instead of following the ebb and flow of the current. By attempting to walk in a straight line, I pushed myself through some of the harsher parts of the current and made the walk harder on myself. When I started to follow the river current and criss-cross through the river to follow the calmer parts of the current, I made the hike a lot easier on myself.
How Much Time Does It Take To Hike The Narrows?
You can spend a varying degree of time in The Narrows. When entering the park, remember that it will take you at least 45 minutes to take the shuttle to the trail and 45 minutes to get back to the gate. This is the time my group did not account for and it limited the amount of time we spent on the trail. Once you reach the trailhead, it is about 30 minutes down the Riverside Walk to the opening of The Narrows. From there, you can decide how much time you want to spend exploring The Narrows. I would recommend spending at a minimum of 4-6 hours on the trail. More time if you want to explore further and go to Big Springs.
Conclusions About The Narrows At Zion
Hiking The Narrows at Zion is one of my all-time favorite hikes! Starting from the Riverside Walk, the bottom-up path is a hike that anybody can try. While the water can be strenuous to navigate at times, you can turn around at any time. Be prepared for walking through the river and have the appropriate gear. From the bottom-up trail, you can hike as far as you want to, up until a permit is required, and turn around at any time. This is a must-do hike at Zion National Park!
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